February 27, 2019

A New Lexicon for the Healthcare Industry

Leigh Cappello

Leigh Cappello
SVP Brand Strategy and Marketing/Benchmark Senior Living

Share This Post

A New Lexicon for the Healthcare Industry

Leigh Anne Cappello Published on Jun 5, 2015 on Medium

I’m fairly new to the healthcare industry, with only three years of research and immersion, so I guess that means I only know enough to be mildly dangerous. But I firmly believe in the value of ‘naïve experts’, who are free from too many biases or habits, and think they play an important role in provoking conversation. At minimum, I hope to do that.

Here’s what I’m thinking. A powerful or common lexicon can serve a brand, a company, or an industry quite well. Such lexicon creates community, understanding, connection to a value, or mission, or strategic imperative. But what happens when the organic or intentional process of creating a lexicon goes haywire and the terms begin to morph, dissolve, or stretch into multiple meanings? Do we lose our way? Do we start to head backwards, sideways, or not move at all? Or worse, does overuse of the same words, particularly if they have varied meanings, make the words so cliche that we begin to inhibit our ability to think beyond the norms?

It doesn’t take much, really, for any of this to happen. One large, influential organization begins to use a term or phrase in a slightly different way than it’s origin and bam! we have new meaning, new inputs, new outputs?—?some are good, but some, not so good.

I am highly sensitive to the power of words. I believe whole heartedly that a great story, told really well can change everything?—?when misused or packaged or delivered poorly, words can create resistance, disbelief, worry. Conversely, words can create empathic following, connection, inspiration, and importanly, support when it is needed most. However, as an innovation junkie, I’ve come to realize that the word ‘innovation’ in and of itself is part of a lexicon that for most industries?—?healthcare no exception?—?has come to mean something far less innovative than its historical intention.

So many people confuse innovation with progress. Many tweaks that have been made in healthcare I consider fantastic progress?—?telemedicine, genetic testing, patient portals, medical homes. But are any of these, or even a combination of any of them, creating the transformational change so desperately needed to address the biggest challenges facing healthcare today? I was astonished to read about the the state of US healthcare relative to third world countries in a Rolling Stone Magazine article and have not been able to get it out of my head. Issues like our increasingly unhealthy, obese population, decreasing lifespans, and unsustainable financial models related to the 20% of patients who drive 80% of healthcare spending, are plaguing our nation and we need to do something about it. In some areas of our country, infant mortality rates rival those in third world countries such as Algeria, Belize and Paraguay.

What if we fundamentally stopped thinking about our current business models and how to ‘fix’ them, and did a deep dive into what our patients?—?or as I like to refer to them, our savvy healthcare consumers?—?think, feel, and desire, as it relates to their healthcare experiences? What if we pretended our current system of healthcare never existed, and built up a system from scratch? What would that look like? What kind of Air B ‘n B- Uber-Apple-Zappos-CVS Minute Clinic-Nike experiences would we be having?

I hear you saying. “It’s not that easy Leigh Anne. We have centuries of experience, infrastructure, regulations and protocols [otherwise known as religious plaque] wrapped up in our existing business model. Don’t be such a naïve ‘naïve expert’”.

However, I’m not talking about throwing out the existing model. I’m just suggesting that the powerful, heavily resourced large institutions that comprise our current systems step up and try more stuff?—?alongside their existing business models— so we can see more rapid, more impactful, transformational change.

Here are some words or phrases in the healthcare industry lexicon that I either struggle with in general, or can’t figure out their true value, meaning, or purpose, other than to encourage incremental tweaks to our existing healthcare business models.

Utilization: Huh? Stop talking about that! People don’t want to USE the healthcare system, they want to trust it, relate to it, own it, engage with it. I’m not suggesting that efforts such as the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) should stop the good work they are doing to study healthcare delivery and patient outcomes, I’m suggesting just that it might be interesting to see what we should be measuring and what our systems might look like if we imagined one that consumers sought out, chatted about with their friends, tweeted about, or maybe even invested in, just as they would do with some other service-based industry. What if we substituted the word Utilization with “Consumption”?

Population Health: I LOVE this term if it means figuring out new models of healthcare for keeping the populations healthy vs. just treating sick people. But I have seen this term used to mean any number of things, including “keeping our employees healthy”, “measuring spending across a specific cohort”, or the more arrogant, “sharing our innovations globally”. Could we instead call this “Community Well-Being”?

Value-Based Care: OK…hard to knock this one. It’s light years from fee-for-service. Let’s just be sure we are talking about value the consumers really want and need, not just value we see through our institutional lenses. Can we call this “Shared Value Experiences”?

Accountable Care: Since when has anyone whose job carries the responsibility of saving lives not been held accountable?—?emotionally, legally or financially? My best friend is a brilliant doctor, not part of an ACO, and she feels accountable every minute of every day. I think we just need to call this one something more like “Coordinated Care”.

So, what do we do about the word ‘innovation’ in healthcare? I constantly go through a spelling bee line of questions when engaging in conversations with healthcare leaders to be sure we are talking about the same level and form of innovation?—?It sounds a little like, “Can you use it in a sentence? Are there other pronunciations? What is the origin of the word in your organization?”

I propose that we need a new lexicon for innovation in our healthcare system. In medical speak: there is a systemic illness called incremental innovation plaguing our healthcare system. What we really need is to fundamentally reimagine our business models focusing on the needs, wants, values, and beliefs of our end users.

We need transformational change?—?and the only way to get there is to carve out some safe spaces for our large, powerful institutions to prototype and experiment with wholly new experiences, while they continue to create meaningful progress with new tools, procedures, methods, all of which serve an important purpose. Transformational change sounds big and scary, but not if we just look at it like a designer would…try more stuff, see what works, iterate, learn, and refine, until we have something that works far better than what we have today.

Let’s stop calling our desire to fix the healthcare system ‘Healthcare Innovation’ and start calling it ‘Healthcare Transformation’.

And perhaps in addition to putting more and more bandages on the existing model, we should consider allocating a little more time to a system-wide triage? Yes! Now there’s a term that might get some healthcare heads lifting up out of their utilization reports! Can we add that one to the lexicon?

One can dream…

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

Share This Post